Why producing and sharing good content will please Google -- and you
One story floating around today has been about the idea that Google is viewing social networking as an “engineering problem.” I’ve seen a few people say this is counter-intuitive, that Google can’t expect to apply engineering to human social behavior in order to profit from it (or, as they put it, to “improve the algorithm”). But this is where we, as users -- as content generators (where content is king) -- can step in and help influence how the community forms and evolves over time.

Just for some perspective, I think it’s worth mentioning that all of my posts are being written between answering phone calls at my job. I work at a travel agency as a receptionist, answering calls from anxious clients who usually call me horrible names. I put up with this because I’m trying to save up enough money to go to law school. But I secretly want to be a writer, which is why I started posting my thoughts on my Google+ profile a couple of days ago.

This evening, I have over 1500 people following my posts, which blows my mind. Isn’t it kind of bizarre how Google+ has given someone like me a voice? Here’s why I think that’s happening: original content on the Internet is like a commodity. It’s rare, and it’s valuable. Just by engaging with the community and by sharing my experience, I’ve created content. Every time you guys respond to a post I make (or that anyone makes), and we start exchanging ideas, we create more content, and this pleases our Google Overlords. For those of you who are more tech savvy, or at least for those of you who have been exposed to some SEO techniques, none of this comes as any kind of surprise. But for many social network users, even the ones who are relatively savvy, this isn’t a concept that necessarily clicks intuitively.

I’m not formally educated in web use analysis, but I used to run a fairly large forum (100k+ users) with a pretty active community of posters during the mid-00s, and what I learned was that content production is really hard to force. Most of what we did to the structure of our site was to cater to those who brought us revenue in the form of content. We changed the rules of moderation for them, we changed the site layout for them, we rolled out our electronic red carpets and poured the e-champagne when they fostered meaningful conversations in public areas of the site.

So far, I am seeing Google+’s community as three basic groups: content producers, content sharers, and content consumers. The content producers include people like +Mike Elgan, +Ryan Estrada, and +Danny Sullivan. They’re either posting new ideas, new art, or they’re trying to analyze trends in a meaningful way. The content re-sharers are sometimes non-person entities like +GPlus Tips, but it seems like most often, they’re people whose opinions we respect for reasons other than Google+ content generation. People like +Tom Anderson and +Chris Brogan produce some content, but seem to share more than they produce, and that is still very valuable, because they’re already famous (read: vetted) enough to have an influential opinion. Famous re-sharers also seem to have a good eye for what people might like to engage with in terms of content. Content consumers are the folks who simply lurk, absorb content, and perhaps occasionally comment. Still a valuable group, because if no one is digesting the content, it’s useless -- to Google as well as to the community.

What is my point? It’s the same one I keep making: engage with the community, because content generation and usage is going to shape what Google chooses to do with this product. Whatever your philosophical feelings are regarding the idea of treating public content like a commodity, that’s what it is on the Internet. It doesn’t mean you have to be disingenuous, it means you have to make sure you have something to say (or a song to share that you wrote, or a painting you made, etc.) if you’re going to share it with the public. I keep making sweeping, overly-optimistic statements about Google+ having the power to change the way we interact socially, to let us move forward as human beings. I say these things because I really think it’s possible.

Google has the power to pluck anyone out of obscurity (hello, I’ve gone from 1500 to 1600 followers while typing up this post). What makes Google great is that it seems chiefly interested in rewarding original content production (which is judged to be good by re-sharers and consumers), and even if that’s primarily because it will create a better revenue stream, I think it's great. Wouldn’t you rather see a company succeed because it’s rewarding good sharing and good content production, rather than see a company reward spam and “cheating” at content production? Google is going to try to capitalize on our social interactions. No one is trying to argue otherwise. I’m just saying that I think we, as a community, can help make sure Google keeps rewarding us for the things we value. And that’s a pretty big deal, at least in my estimation.

Bottom line: participate! It will make your experience better, and it will make Google+ better.
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